Pillow Talk

Someone wished me a ‘happy New Year’ yesterday. I think they may have missed the cut-off point for this.

It’s a terribly British problem but when exactly is it socially appropriate to stop saying ‘happy New Year!’? It feels like we’ve been shrouded in grey skies, beset by biting winds and plagued by slippery pavements for weeks.

Aside from sodden Uggs (aka Sluggs), January’s biggest fashion problem is Hat Hair. Hat Hair occurs when you leave the house wearing an on-trend woollen hat, only to arrive at your destination, remove said hat – and then realise that your hair is plastered to your head and flatter than a pancake.

As I type, I’m currently battling the dilemma of whether to remove my hat and expose the inevitable Hat Hair or keep it safely hiding my flattened tresses. Outside, this bushy beast passed for something relatively fashionable; now that I’m wearing it indoors – sans coat – it looks like a giant toilet brush.

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It’s so cold that I’ve become obsessed with ridiculously hot baths. It’s not even that our apartment, aka the Holiday Home, is even that cold (the heating’s been on for four years because the husband and I never did work out how to turn it off); I’ve just got The Perma-Chill Within. I literally cannot function at home without clambering straight into a scalding bath to warm my cold bones.

But the ultimate weapon against The Perma-Chill Within is the hot water bottle. Anyone who doesn’t use the trusty bottie is seriously missing a trick.

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Simply fill it up from the kettle (ignore the naysayers who warn against this), pop it under the duvet and it will heat the bed all night (White Company cashmere cover optional). I’ve even been known to leave the house with one strapped to my back. I’m now just  one step away from the ultimate statement of slobbiness: the slanket.

In other mundane/ inane news, my cleaner (she of the bizarre presents; details here) has finally returned from her extended break in Poland. Thank the Lord. (Yes, I have a cleaner. I’m far too important educating the next generation to iron my own smalls).

However, I fear she might have taken leave of her senses. Evidence as follows…

ME: Hi! Bit of a strange question but do you know what you did with the pillowcases that were on our bed? I wanted to wash them but I can find only the sheets…

CLEANER: So sorry Katy! I will ask my friend. She clean the bed today. She not answer her mobile. Oh I am so very sorry about this. I don’t check her today very carefully.

ME: Don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll turn up!

CLEANER: She still not answer her phone. I can come and sort this out now because I don’t feel so good about this.

ME: It’s fine. I was just a bit puzzled. Please don’t worry.

CLEANER: I come to house now to sort this out.

ME: There’s no need to do that. It’s fine!

CLEANER: I am so sorry! Maybe she put the left this cases on the pillow and she put new cases on top?

ME: Hi! You’re right – she has. I’ve found them!

CLEANER: Oh my good! I am so very sorry. Next time I do the beds. So so sorry Katy!!! I am really sorry!

ME: Please don’t worry. Have a great weekend.

CLEANER: Thank you. I am one more time SO SO SORRY!!!!

Reading these messages, you probably now think that I keep the kowtowing cleaner locked in a cupboard and occasionally beat her with a mop.

But honestly I couldn’t be a better employer: I always make sure I’m out when she comes, eat and drink her strange Polish gifts out of guilt, and have given her jobs with at least eight other friends. I even clean up for the cleaner. Who does that?

Following The Curious Incident of the Vanishing Pillowcases, by way of apology she presented me with a fine bottle of… Zubrowka Bison Grass.

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I’m not sure exactly what it is but I can only assume from the picture that it’s a highly potent Polish vodka, mixing the blood of a bull with the semen of an ox.

Thank God for Dry January.

In Da Club

Playground of the rich, metropolis of the future, and home – it seems – to half the population of Essex… Welcome to Dubai.

Where there’s sun and money, the C-list schlebs will follow. Fame-hungry Abbey Clancy’s on the beach over yonder straddling a camel and posing for the paps, and pearly-toothed Mark Wright (whoever he is) is busy filling his boots at the free hotel buffet.

Basically, our hotel has become the setting for an entire episode of TOWIE.

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Getting some winter sun comes at a high price. Surrounded by cranes, skyscrapers and garish opulence, the husband put it like this: ‘It’s basically Disneyland in the desert. But instead of Mickey Mouse on the prowl you’ve got fake sheikhs on the take.’

Seriously though, we are very happy here sipping ruinously-expensive cocktails, lapping up the rays and reading our books, save for an annoying man next to us whose mobile appears to be surgically attached to his ear. His latest call was to Carl Cox.

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‘Alright Coxy,’ he bleated in a Jonathan Ross voice. I was surprised he could speak at all given the mouthfuls of food he was shovelling in in a most slovenly manner. (Seriously, eating lunch on your sunbed – is there no decorum left?) ‘I’ve told them it’s £150,000 for a four-hour set. They’re getting back to me.’

Hot on the heels of bumping into some parents from school (‘What are the chances?’), the husband then decided that there might be someone he knows reclining on the sun lounger behind us.

‘Take a long look at him and report back,’ said the husband, in hushed tones.

‘Thinning grey hair, rather challenged around the waistline, looks just like the old dude off Ray Donovan,’ I said, covertly peering from behind my shades.

‘Thats him!’ said the husband. ‘Let’s hide.’

There’s been a lot of talk from the husband of what to do on New Year’s Eve.

If it was up to me, I’d be tucked up watching the final episode of Homeland in my new cashmere bed socks, perhaps taking an occasional glance at the fireworks through the window.

This option, however, has been vetoed by the husband, who appears to have succumbed to the age-old pressure of What To Do On New Year’s Eve.

This might mean we are forced to spend an obscene amount of money on a set menu in one of Dubai’s fine eateries. Naturally, I’m doing everything in my power to stop this.

Our hotel, which lurks in the shadow of the Dubai Mall – a great sprawling behemoth of consumerism – has published a handy guide on what to do for New Year’s Eve.

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Every restaurant in the vicinity has a minimum entry fee and, worse still, you have to be there by 4pm at the latest! That’s eight hours of wining and dining before the chords of Auld Lang Syne even strike up. I was having palpatations just thinking about it.

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I idly flicked through the booklet. Carluccios had a set menu for AED 625 (about £125), TGI Fridays were charging a staggering £300, Fortnum and Mason were a snip at around £200, and Starbucks were charging £100.

Wait… Starbucks?! Home to overpriced wishy-washy coffee. What could possibly be on this £100 set menu? Stale blueberry muffin for starters, anaemic mozzarella panini for the main, and one of those sickly caramel waffles for dessert – all washed down with a tepid milky latte?

Luckily, fate has intervened… in the form of The Club. The Club is a newly-discovered lounge in our hotel which serves up FREE afternoon tea, FREE snacks 24-7, and FREE food and drinks by night.

Note the emphasis on free. In a city where you have to sell a kidney to buy a gin and tonic, this is quite remarkable.

The husband and I made our first trip to The Club last night and enjoyed champagne cocktails and chilled glasses of Sauvignon – all on the house.

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All around us people were hungrily slurping their free drinks and tucking into the rather sizeable buffet. A man in scruffy tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt shuffled past, plate piled high.

‘Look at that,’ I whispered. ‘These people aren’t even bothering to change out of their slobs. They’re just here for the free food and drink!’

‘That’s Mark Wright from TOWIE,’ said the husband, who to my knowledge has never watched an episode of reality TV in his life.

‘He’s really big news’.

As if on cue, a gaggle of tipsy women raised their Cosmpolitons and chorused, ‘Hi Mark’ in unison as he passed.

‘Never heard of him,’ I said.

‘Here’s the plan,’ I told the sceptical husband. ‘We come to The Club for New Year’s Eve. We’ll gorge on the buffet, quaff the champers and watch the fireworks from the balcony. And best of all, it won’t cost us a penny!’

‘There’s just one problem,’ said the husband.

‘I’ve already booked Starbucks.’

Trunky Want A Bun?

A peculiar email from our old nosy neighbours snooping Susan and deflated Dick landed in my inbox today.

Our favourite curtain twitchers (details here) may have moved out six months ago but it’s reassuring/ slightly frightening to know that they’re still keeping tabs on the comings and goings of our apartment block – from their new abode several miles away!

Hi Katy,

Thought I would send best wishes for 2015, particularly for happy relationships with your neighbours.

I had a brief phone conversation with Bea (Apt 2) recently, who told me about the party in our old apartment: held by son of new owners, with police being called, she thought. She also thought the police had been back looking for the previous woman tenant of no. 4, but she was a bit vague about it.

Here in new apartment: all quiet, reliable and pleasant neighbours, all owner-occupiers with one exception – and that tenant sleeps here during the week only, and we have never seen him since our arrival in July!

Best wishes,

Susan and Dick

I re-read the email and am still completely baffled as to its purpose.

Is it that they merely want to boast about the serenity of their new domicile?

Do they want me to tell them how hellish it is living here, in order to justify their move?

Or are they simply hoping I will provide them with insider information about their erstwhile neighbours – to feed their insatiable appetite for gossip?

Answers on a postcard please…

* Trunky want a bun? – possibly my favourite-ever phrase to describe a nosy person (trunky being an elephant sniffing out a bun).

Getting Shady With The Ladies

It’s Saturday morning and the perfect chance to catch up with Peter, my weepy 70-year-old coffee shop pal who’s looking for love.

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Peter’s love life is now so complicated that even I’m struggling to keep up. Despite claiming to be a one-woman man (he was devoted to beloved Brenda for 50 years), he seems to have at least five women now on the go. That’s a lot of irons in the fire.

Here’s our Graham with a quick reminder: there’s ‘Gates’ – a woman who lives near by (who opens her gates as a signal that he’s allowed in for a bottle of Lidl Prosecco), there’s a nurse he’s got his eye on in Nero (she has nice legs, old Pete doesn’t miss a trick), a council woman he tried to ask out but rebuffed him (he won’t ask again!); another widower with an interest in ballroom dancing (‘work in progress’).

But the woman who has really stolen his heart is a local business woman, who is so affectionate she practically ‘mauls’ him. Problem is, this business woman already has a partner. Peter’s head tells him to ‘get out now’, but his heart’s telling him otherwise.

I’m worried this won’t end well for emotionally-fragile Pete.

To further complicate matters, it turns out Peter has a love rival: Shady Kevin. Shady Kevin is another fixture on the Nero scene: a perma-tanned, grizzle-haired property developer with an eye for the ladies. He might be generously described as a silver fox but I think he looks shifty – and Peter agrees.

‘I may be in the kindergarten when it comes to women but when it comes to men I’m all there,’ said Peter. ‘There’s a saying we had in the car business: ‘no-one can lift my leg’.

‘I don’t trust Shady Kevin one bit. He sits in the corner watching my every move.’

‘If he was a horse, I wouldn’t ride him and if he was a dog, I’d have him muzzled!’

Malcolm, on the other hand, seems to be getting a bit bothersome in his old age. A hand-written letter arrived from him at my workplace, thanking me for the olive oil I bought him in Mallorca back in August. I’m a little alarmed by this, as I don’t recall telling him where I worked.

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Luckily, the heat’s off because Peter tells me that Malcolm’s developed a small fixation with a woman called Bridget (stern-looking school m’am with bobbed hair; takes no prisoners). However, Bridget has a crush on ‘Colin Firth’ (a married father-of-two with Hollywood looks, who makes her heart ‘beat furiously’). Introduce Shady Kevin into this mix, who apparently fancies Bridget…  and poor Malcolm doesn’t stand a chance.

And if this wasn’t enough characters to add to this ever-evolving soap opera, let me introduce you to one more: Leery Len.

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Leery Len is part of the late afternoon Nero crew (a whole new group of oddities, separate to the morning pensioner parade we’ve come to love and know). Leery Len is one of those highly-irritating people, who talks in a really loud voice so that every conversation is like one big stage show for those unfortunate enough to be around him.

This boombastic bozo meets with his friend religiously at 5pm every evening and spends a lot of time complaining bitterly about his perpetually-complicated love life, namely ‘idiotic’ women who don’t return his calls.

He also makes loud, border-line misogynist comments about women in his vicinity such as, ‘My oh my, she’s stunning and look at her legs!’

Occasionally, he bellows silly statements across to me such as, ‘I don’t know how you cope with that machine (my laptop) – I once signed up to email and got hundreds of the blasted things!’ and, ‘Do you think I should join Facebook? What’s the difference between Facebook and Twitter?’

Have you ever tried to explain the difference between Facebook and Twitter to a technologically-challenged buffoon? It’s harder than you think.

One final new Nero character who deserves a mention is Note Woman. Note Woman apparently delivers hand-written notes to people sat drinking their coffee. The notes are all steeped in paranoia, saying things like, ‘Do not trust the man you are talking to.’

I haven’t actually met Note Woman yet; she might even be an urban myth.

But I’m already looking forward to the day a crazed-looking pensioner sidles over and drops a note in my lap saying: ‘Do not trust that shifty man in the corner with the grey hair and suspicious tan….

‘Get him MUZZLED.’

Hospital Dramas

There’s something strangely reassuring that while my mum is holed up in Critical Care following a seven-hour operation, my father remains insistent on avoiding hospital parking fees by parking on a remote residential street at least half a mile away – simply because it is free.

My father never believes in paying for parking anywhere: a habit so firmly entrenched that even though my mother is lost somewhere in the cavernous corridors of Preston Royal Infirmary, he refuses to part with a few pounds for the convenience of the car park.

Lost in the hospital might sound a little dramatic but after an anxious wait all day, I phoned to see whether my mum had come out of theatre. There was a long pause and a bit of tapping on a keyboard. It seemed that she had left the admissions ward at 7am that morning but had yet to arrive in Critical Care, according to the computer. She was currently unaccounted for.

An hour later, I phoned back only to be told that the computer still said ‘no’.

At 7pm, with my father pacing around the lounge and fielding calls from feeble Great Uncle Keith, I phoned again and she was STILL lost in hospital No Man’s Land.

‘We don’t even need to come and see her,’ I told the nurse a little desperately. ‘I just want to know if she’s had the operation and if she’s STILL ALIVE.’

At 8pm, my father and I decided to go down in person. After parking in father’s aforementioned free parking spot, we set off on foot to the Critical Care visitor waiting room, swiftly renamed The Waiting Room of Doom. It was packed to the gills with desperate relatives but not a single member of staff in sight.

I had begun to imagine my mother languishing on a bed in a corridor somewhere, or stuffed in a store cupboard having to drink water from a vase. I was already penning my letter to the Daily Mail.

After what seemed like hours, someone eventually arrived and confirmed that my mum had finally arrived at the Critical Care ward, following a bed shortage. Relieved, we followed the nurse down the corridor.

We had been told that she might look terrible and would be covered in tubes. But as we rounded the corner, she was propped up in bed and looked remarkably well, all considering.

‘I feel like I’ve been run over by a double-decker bus,’ she croaked.

‘Everyone keeps telling my how well I look but I feel terrible. The nurses said I look like I’ve just stepped out of a hair salon!’

‘I have to laugh otherwise I’d cry.’

I took a closer look at her hair. It did – incredibly – look like she had just stepped out of a hair salon.

A doctor came over, ‘What is your date of birth and full address?’ he asked.

‘Ah,’ said my mother. ‘You’re doing this to check whether I’m compos mentis.’

She rattled off her particulars and for added effect said, ‘The current Prime Minister is David Cameron.’

‘What are your dislikes?’ said the doctor.

There was a long pause while both my parents pondered this.

‘She doesn’t like tinned tomatoes,’ said my father eventually. ‘And she doesn’t like going out to sea in the boat.’

My mother nodded in agreement.

Inevitably, now that my mum has been moved onto a ward, she has been put next to the most delirious woman in the whole hospital.

Mad Margaret doesn’t actually believe she is a patient; she thinks she’s a visitor. This means that she refuses to stay in her bed but wanders round ‘visiting’ other patients, including my poor mother. At one point she tried to climb on top of her. She is also perpetually preoccupied by when everyone’s birthday is.

‘She’s completely doolally,’ whispered my mother. ‘The best thing to do is keep smiling and be firm with her.’

Another patient – across from my mother – had a terrible experience in the shower this morning. Apparently, she was helped to the shower by a nurse who plonked her on the shower seat and then abandoned her.

Despite her cries for help and pulling the emergency cord, she was stuck in the shower for up to an hour! She’s still in a state of shock.

‘I’m just going to have a shower when I get home,’ whispered my mother, who is currently too poorly to move from her bed. ‘It’s just not worth the risk; I might never make it out.’

‘I couldn’t make it even to the door,’ she went on. ‘Just getting into the chair feels like I’ve climbed Mount Everest and run a marathon.’

So far, my mother’s visitors have been restricted to immediate family but now that Uncle Stephen is back from Benidorm, he’s planning a visit on Monday. Uncle Stephen, I’m reliably informed, absolutely loves hospital visiting.

My mum’s friend Valerie might also come but she can only turn left in her car so she would have to map out an anti-clockwise route if she were ever to make it.

In the meantime, I’ve been staying with my father which has been an enlightening experience in itself. In the garage, I found literally hundreds of cooking apples, which my father is insistent he is planning on eating, despite my incredulity.

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There’s also several boxes of onions from Uncle Stephen, who has taken to growing them again, now that his pyromaniac neighbour has finally been wheeled off by the men in white coats and can no longer set fire to his vegetables.

As a treat, the husband and I took my Dad to Nando’s which he rather liked although he insists on mistakenly calling it Nachos. We also had a coffee in Starbucks.

When we got to the hospital, my mother said: ‘How was Stardrops and Nachos?’

My father was about to answer, when his mobile rang shrilly. A look of horror crossed both my parents’ faces.

‘You can’t bring mobiles in here,’ cried my mother. ‘They’ll interfere with the machinery!’

My mother went on to say that the doctor had been round that morning and asked if she wanted any morphine.

‘Morphine?!” said my mother, horrified. ‘No thank you. That’s what drug addicts have!’

‘I definitely don’t want morphine,’ she recounted to us after. ‘I might get hooked on it.’

‘I don’t think you can get addicted,’ said my father, in all seriousness. ‘You haven’t got a dealer.’

Space Rage

Just when I thought things had settled down at our apartment block, I’ve found myself in a Cold War over parking with Slovenly Sonia, the lazy new tenant at Apartment 8.

There’s an unofficial parking space by the side of our apartment and while it’s always been offered up on a ‘first come, first served basis’ the husband and I have been getting first dibs on it for the last few years (bar the occasional wrangle with Belligerent Bill from Apt 2).

We parked there so often, in fact, that we had begun to think of it as our own private parking spot.

This was before Sonia and her cream Mini arrived. She descended on our apartments a couple of months ago and now hogs the space ALL of the time. This is largely because a. she doesn’t appear to ever be at work and b. she never seems to leave her apartment.

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Another resident apparently asked Sonia if she could please park in her allocated spot down the hill and leave the spare spaces for those who had two cars. Slovenly Son refused, muttering something about the car park ‘being a mess’.

After a few weeks of seeing her cream Mini parked there, I began to get rather resentful. Sometimes, when I walked past, I had an irrational urge to kick the car – or in wilder moments I imagined beating it with a tree branch (a la mad Basil Fawlty in the opening episode of Fawlty Towers).

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Then one evening, on sighting the cream Mini smugly nestled in its usual spot, I decided enough was enough.

I grabbed a Post-it note, scribbled, ‘Why can’t you just park in your own space and stop hogging this one?’, hared back out and slapped it on her windscreen.

The next day there was an ‘all residents’ email from Sonia herself.

‘Hi, whoever put the post it note on my car … Could you have the decency to contact me direct …. Tenant or owner we all have the same rights ….the space is directly at the side of my apartment and it is an unallocated space and I was informed it is whoever gets there first? If I am in that spot and my space is empty I don’t have a problem with anyone parking in my spot… But I have plantar fascititus so find it easier on my foot to park at the top.

Thank you and kind regard.’

Plantar fascitius?? I hastily Googled this condition and discovered that it’s basically a sore foot usually suffered by people who wear poorly-fitting shoes or lead a sedentary lifestyle.

‘Sounds about right,’ I huffed to the husband.

Plantar fascitius is quite similar to Policeman’s Heel, which I rather like the sound of (the name, not the condition).

Later that week, I actually saw slipshod Sonia heading out on foot. I gave her a cheery wave: the kind of cheery neighbourly wave that I hoped said, ‘Hello friendly neighbour; it wasn’t me that put a passive aggressive Post-It note on your window!’.

It didn’t escape my notice that she was wearing a pair of high heels and appeared to be clopping along at ease. Surely a true plantar fascititus sufferer should be in a sensible pair of Clarks brogues? Policeman’s Heel, my ass!

The next day, I returned home to find the much-maligned space vacant and cream Mini nowhere to be seen.

I was then caught in a dilemma. Do I make the most of Slovenly Sonia’s absence and snap the space up while I can? Or, in taking the space, am I effectively advertising, ‘I’m the person who put the Post-It note on your car. I’m the friendly neighbour who’s not so friendly after all!’

I spent so long dilly-dallying that wranglesome Sonia arrived home and zoomed straight in. I’d lost out again!

A week has now passed since the Post-It note and I’m determined to reclaim the space. It’s simply a matter of lying in wait for her next trip out.

Once I’ve secured the spot, it’s going to be difficult to give it up again. I might have to leave my car in situ and take public transport for a few days.

‘You can spout all the fancy foot conditions you like at me, Sonia,’ I thought, grimly.

But one thing’s for sure, I’m going to reclaim that space. I’m in this for the long run.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

The over-60s social scene at Caffè Nero continues to provide hours of entertainment and guess who’s in the thick of it…

Former regular Porridge-Loving Pensioner, once part of the fixtures and fittings, is now long gone, last seen shuffling off towards the local boozer.

Following ‘flowersgate‘ (in which he threw a bunch of flowers at Legs for refusing to take him to the hospital), there was another awkward showdown over some suits and shirts Malcolm had brought in for him (apparently Malcolm wanted some money for them but PLP kept making excuses). He hasn’t been sighted since.

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And Legs (scantily-clad nemesis vying for the attentions of Peter, Malcolm et al.) is STILL wearing shorts despite an average autumn temperature of 8 degrees.
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But coffee-shop staple Linda, formerly lampooned as a miserly retiree, is now my NBF!

Peter told me that Linda is a very shrewd antique dealer, who doesn’t take any prisoners. From what I’ve seen, I’d be inclined to agree. She used to regard me with suspicion as I chewed the fat with Peter and Malcolm.

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Then one day, I ended up in a three-way conversation with Linda and Peter and she seemed to grudgingly accept me.

Later, Peter told me that po-faced Linda is a naturally suspicious person but he said that now I’d cracked the ice, I’d be accepted.

‘Her bark is worse than he bite,’ he said.

He wasn’t wrong. The next day, Linda came charging over to me in a harried fashion, muttering something about her new iPad not working. I’m not sure what she wanted me to do so I smiled sympathetically as she patted me arm before charging off.

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The following week a most extraordinary offer from the former miserly: she quite randomly offered me a pair of shoes!

Apparently, she had bought some beautiful brogues many years ago that she couldn’t wear due to a problem with her foot and wondered if I’d like them.

I had to break the news to her that I have freakishly large feet (details here) so I wouldn’t be able to shoehorn my trotters into them. On news of this, she simply patted me on the arm again and charged off.

After his intense interest in our trip to Mallorca this summer, Malcolm went a bit quiet for a while. Peter told me that someone had insinuated to poor Malcolm that he was a bit of a pest. He had naturally upset him and he’d been sipping his cappuccino in solitude.

That all changed this week when Malcolm shuffled over in his fedora and asked if he could sit with me. We had a bit of a chat about his days in the Air Force in Egypt.

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Malcolm has a wife who is virtually house-bound. His trip to Caffè Nero is his only trip out of the house all day.

‘If I didn’t have this, I might go potty,’ he said.

‘There was a woman with grey hair who I used to see every day heading to the Co-Op,’ he mused.

‘She told me that she only reasons she went shopping every day was that it was the only human contact she would have.

‘It’s not much fun getting old,’ he added, gazing contemplatively out of the window.

Fellow oldie Peter continues to regale me with tales of grief from deceased wife Brenda (there was a bit more sobbing the other day) while juggling the complexities of dating. The old devil has a potential three women on the go!

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According to Peter, the dating rules aren’t much different for the over-60s than they are for teenagers. There’s a lot of text games going on.

One woman, I’ve nicknamed ‘Gates’,  is game-playing to the extreme. Peter has to drive past her house in the evening and if the gates are open, he’s allowed in. If the gates are shut, it’s a Marks and Spencer’s meal for one back at home.

Peter keeps assuring me that he doesn’t want a replacement for Brenda, just some company. ‘Il companionata‘, as they say.

‘Linda says when it comes to dating, I’m not even in the junior school; I’m still in kindergarten,’ he said, wistfully.

But it seems Gates locked Peter out too many times because he’s now interested in someone else altogether – who he met right here in Caffè Nero.

‘My heart’s now elsewhere,’ said Peter, who only appears to converse in metaphors. ‘I never imagined anything after Brenda but lightning has struck and it’s like a bolt.

‘It’s a very complicated situation,’ he went on. ‘You’d think it would get easier in my twilight years but there’s a lot of emotional baggage.’

‘Don’t get in too deep,’ I said sagely.

‘It’s too late,’ lamented Peter. ‘My nostrils are only just out of the water.’

Park Life

It’s 8.37pm and I am sitting in a freezing cold church hall with 12 pensioners, discussing the best way to plant daffodil bulbs and how to tackle a voracious weed that goes by the name of Himalayan Balsam.

How I came to be here is another story but right now two things are going through my head: 1. The husband is going to want feeding and he has no idea where I am. 2. When on earth is this meeting going to end?!

In hindsight, pitching up unannounced at a committee meeting of Friends of The Park was a very foolish manoeuvre indeed. The rationale behind this madness was that as the house-that-we-bought-but-have-yet-to-move-into is on the edge of the park, it would probably be prudent to actually become a Friend of the Park.

So when I received a generic email inviting all Friends of the Park to their quarterly meeting at 7pm on Wednesday, in the spirit of neighbourliness I thought I’d bob along.

I imagined scores of friendly locals filling the hall, discussing local matters – such as the new bar down the road – over coffee and biscuits.

But as I walked through the door and took in the scene that greeted me – namely a cavernous and chilly church hall with a handful of silver-haired octogenarians shuffling in the shadows, I realised that I’d made a terrible mistake: I’d unwittingly stumbled across a real life episode of the Vicar of Dibley.

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To be fair, I couldn’t have been given a warmer welcome. After the initial shock of someone at least thirty years younger suddenly appearing at one of their meetings, the Friends of the Park flocked round me like bees to a pot of honey.

‘As you can see we’re not the most sprightly of groups,’ said a kindly woman called Sue. ‘It’s great to see someone young here.’

I perched at the edge of the table trying to look as inconspicuous as possible as chairman David gave his round-up of what Friends of the Park had been up to.

He started with litter picking, before moving on to tackling rampant weeds, malfunctioning drainage systems, slippery stepping stones, budget-busting building work… On and on he went, in his strangely soothing drone.

As I glanced around the table, I noticed one grizzled attendee had fallen asleep; another had a coughing fit, disappeared into the darkness and never re-appeared.

‘…. it was only once my initial indignation had abated that I decided to respond to the claims that I should have ordered 6,000 daffodil bulbs and not 3,000… ‘ David was saying.

And off he went again.

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Just as I was snatching a quick glance at my phone under the table and considering what sort of excuse I could give to GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, there was a break in David’s monotone.

I looked up to find 12 sets of hooded eyes staring eagerly at me.

‘David was just saying we REALLY need someone to help with the website – someone youthful with a better handle on media stuff,’ said the woman called Sue.

In my experience of these meetings, Rule Number One is never to agree to help with anything. As my mother would say, once you’ve GOT INVOLVED, you’ll never be able to escape.

‘I’m afraid I’m utterly hopeless at anything related to ICT,’ I stuttered. ‘I’m just not the person for the job.’

Sue looked so crestfallen that I felt the need to offer a consolation prize.

‘I could take a look at the website though,’ I offered. ‘A fresh pair of eyes to make some suggestions?’

Sue seemed happy with this but David peered at me over his spectacles suspiciously.

‘I think we should get a designer to help us,’ he said. ‘We’re frightened of spending money but this is one thing that we really should spend money on.’

‘Perhaps we should have a meeting to decide on the content and look of the website first,’ I suggested. ‘And then we could find a designer to put it altogether?’

‘But a good designer would do that for us,’ argued David.

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘But it’s probably better to approach them with an idea of the content we want first.’

David merely scowled at me.

At 9pm, the meeting finally began to draw to an end. I picked up my bag and shuffled to the edge of my chair in a manner that I hoped indicated that I was ready to leave.

My phone flashed with a text from the husband, no doubt racked with hunger: WHERE ARE YOU?

‘Is there any other business?’ asked monotone David.

‘Well,’ said kindly Sue. ‘As many of you can probably see, we have a new member here tonight…

‘Katy, would you like to properly introduce yourself?’

As I glanced in desperation at the door, the Friends of the Park settled back in their chairs and smiled at me expectantly.

Floored By Indecision

I realised this week that there’s been no update on The House-that-we-bought-but-then-couldn’t-get-planning-permission-for for some time.

That’s probably because I became so fed up with the house, I have been largely pretending it doesn’t exist and going about normal life in our apartment quite contentedly. 

I occasionally drive past our woebegotten domicile, just to check it hasn’t accidentally burnt to the ground (which, thinking about it, might not be such a bad thing, as I’m sure building a house from scratch would be easier than the complex to-ing and fro-ing with the planning department over building a rear extension that NOBODY CAN EVEN SEE).
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To cut a long and convoluted story short, I didn’t end up having an affair with planning officer Peter Grant in order to get our plans passed (as I was contemplating in previous blogs). This wouldn’t have been possible anyway, given that after a while he stopped taking my phone calls.

What actually happened in the end was that we had to re-apply to the council for a large single-storey extension under Permitted Development rights: another arduous process which basically involves submitting the plans to the same planning department who rejected our plans in the first place – just for them to confirm that these new plans do not, in fact, actually need any planning permission. Confused? Me too!

The final perverse twist to this planning saga is that we’ve ended up pretty much the same rear extension we wanted to begin with, yet now the council have absolutely no control over it. Take that, Laura Hogg!

In the midst of all this red tape wrangling, I was supposed to be putting together some sort of design scheme for the house. I went through all the usual motions of buying home magazines, creating boards on Pinterest, and re-igniting my old Farrow and Ball obsession.

But then I realised I was completely and utterly paralysed by my old affliction CHRONIC INDECISION.

When you suffer from chronic indecision like me, choosing just one bath tap might take two to three weeks of extensive research, followed by another week confirming the decision, followed by another two weeks worrying about whether you made the right decision or not, followed by the dawning realisation that you might have made the wrong decision and would have to live with it for the REST OF YOUR LIFE.

So the thought of committing to several bathrooms, a kitchen, floorings, carpets, decking, windows, doors, fire places, door handles – basically every fixture and fitting in a whole house – was completely overwhelming.

First, I decided to tackle the flooring. I spent days visiting flooring shops, scouring the internet and perusing Pinterest. Eventually, I decided I wanted a dark wood floor in the hallway. I then couldn’t decide exactly which type of dark brown: a reddy dark brown, a browny dark brown or a dark dark brown.

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It was a first world problem on a whole new scale.

For about a week, I was gripped by flooring indecision. Jonny at the flooring shop down the road became my new best friend. I’m not sure how to describe Jonny: he was like a young Tom Cruise, with slicked down hair and a baby face. He was infinitely patient and never seemed to tire of my deliberations.

But what really stood out was his smell: he smelled really, really nice – like freshly washed laundry. Together, we poured over every dark wood flooring he had in the whole store, while I umm-ed and ahh-ed and took photos and looked at each piece in every possible light.

The following day, we went through the same process again, while I inhaled baby-faced Jonny’s summery meadowy scent.

I didn’t manage to get a shot of Jonny but you can just see his polished shoe peeking into the corner of this picture. And how nice are these carpets?!

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Later that week, I was just down at the bathroom place choosing tiles (with a man called Gary who became so exasperated with me he actually broke out into a sweat and kept clutching his chest like he was in the grip of a bad bout of angina), when I decided to pop in and see my NBF Jonny.

It might have been my imagination but when I walked in, I’m sure the guy who sits opposite Jonny muttered, ‘Oh look, she’s here again!’

‘Hi Jonny,’ I chirped. ‘Don’t worry, I’m not stalking you!’

No sooner than the words had left my mouth, I realised that perhaps I WAS stalking fragrant Jonny.

‘I just thought I’d pop back and have another look at the difference between Autumn Dawn and Cherry Oak,’ I added, trying to adopt a bright smile and an air of This Is Perfectly Normal Behaviour.

Jonny looked scared.

That weekend, I took the husband to see Jonny. This was now my fifth visit in one week.

‘I apologise for my wife being such a pest,’ said the husband. ‘She is very indecisive. I’m sorry that you have to put up with this.’

Jonny smiled at me in a way one might placate a psychiatric patient and dutifully went off to fetch two samples of the dark brown wood I was currently deliberating over.

‘Have you smelt him yet?’ I whispered to the husband.

‘Huh?!’ said the husband.

‘YOU NEED TO SMELL HIM,’ I said.

Silver Surfers Crash The Party

It’s Monday night and the residents of my apartment block are gathered in Apt 11 for a meeting. With extreme nosy neighbours Susan and Dick no longer at the helm, we have become a rudderless vessel, flailing in a sea of overflowing bins, badly-parked cars and uncooperative bin men.

Following the departure of SuDick and others, there are quite a few new faces around the room.

Desperate housewife Diane – fan of the feather duster – is perched like a small bird on the sofa, her big eyes scanning the room anxiously; Valerie – a kindly-looking pensioner, new to Apt 5 – nestles next to her. She is sporting flesh-coloured pop socks.

Ironically, one of the main reasons SuDick sold up (apart from ongoing feuds with the bin men, gardeners, cleaners and the management company) was because they felt the apartment block was becoming overrun with party-loving young professionals. At this latest meeting, it appears the demograph has shifted; we now seem to be housing a horde of down-sizing retirees. I couldn’t be happier.

For some reason, I seem to still be receiving the occasional email from Susan, boasting about her harmonious new neighbours. ‘There are only eight apartments here and everyone gets on wonderfully,’ she wrote, with barely-contained glee.

‘I’ve already been asked to be the director of the management company!’

Her new neighbours clearly have no idea what they’re dealing with.

Back at the meeting, the slovenly solicitor from Apt 8 – Sonia, I learn – has sent her apologies. She is not, I note, apologising for permanently hogging the only free parking space with her cream Mini. In fact, when challenged, she purportedly outright refused to use her own space further down the car park.

Over in the corner, Belligerent Bill from Apt 1 is brandishing a sheet of paper; it’s a letter from the management company fining him £250 for refusing to park in his allocated bay. Allegedly, Bill received this letter after a litany of complaints from some unnamed residents. SuDick might be long gone but their legacy lives on. Slovenly Sonia had better watch out.

Florid-faced Bill isn’t happy. From time to time, he makes occasional puffing noises and folds his arms angrily. I can’t help but think this is retribution for my own parking wrangle with him last year.

One of the new down-sizers – Tony, I think – leans over and pats Bill reassuringly on the knee. ‘Don’t worry mate,’ he says. ‘No-one expects you to pay that. We’re all behind you’.

I say nothing.

Tony and his wife Pat sit ramrod on their hardback chairs. They haven’t even moved into their apartment yet but seem alarmed by the tales of resident woe: unruly tenants, all-night parties, pesky Dick almost arrested for harassing the noisy nuisance-makers in Apt 4.

I chip in my own tale about a recent visit from a pair of Bobbies on the beat. The aforementioned noisy nuisance-makers from Apt 4 are wanted on drug charges, I say.

The room falls silent.

‘I always thought I could smell marijuana,’ I add, warming to the drama.

Tony and Pat look positively horrified.

There was some discussion about the bin men. SuDick had fallen out with them so spectacularly that they are now refusing to empty our bins at all.

I am just beginning to wonder who might want to take SuDick’s mantle as chief complainant when George steps forward, husband of Diane.

‘This is ridiculous,’ he says. ‘I’ll lie in wait for them next Friday and get this sorted once and for all.’

‘Oh, George is terrible when he gets worked up,’ trilled big-eyed Diane. ‘Once he gets the bit between his teeth, there’s no stopping him. Bins, parking… he’s going to be the Victor Meldrew of the apartments!’

Eva from Apartment 16 and I exchange a look.

‘I don’t think he can be any worse than his predecessors,’ says Eva. ‘Susan and Dick were on a whole new level.’

‘Those are some very big boots to fill,’ I agree.

George merely grunts and folds his arms.

Those bin men don’t know what’s coming.